This posting begins a multi-part new series. I pray to have the energy, time and guidance to bring it to fruition, and that others will participate, and especially that it will be for the good of souls. We are all treading on some unfamiliar ground.
There are already related posts, comments and links on Cleansing Fire regarding the evolving Vatican situation, and its reverberation through the ranks of the faithful. The division in the Church, the silent lack of direction, the apparent deviations among the hierarchy from God’s own Teaching, the unanswered dubia of Four Cardinals, and the challenges to us, “the little ones” in the pew, all testify to the problems. There is no need to reiterate what has already been made obvious. Whether or not we are entering “end times” is even a question some of us may have, especially as we deeply consider Christ’s own words:
“… when the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Sheltering in Place – Part I: Commitment
As a child, when the school siren sounded, I hid under my classroom desk and pulled my green-and-every-conceivable-color plaid woolen coat over my head in anticipation of a Russian nuclear attack. A few years later, when we no longer fit under the desks, we’d gather in the hallway, face to the wall, waiting for the Russian bombs. The memorable scenes include the mild disappointment that nothing – NOTHING — ever happened. Eventually a bell rang, and we quietly filed back into Sister Mary Liguori’s math class.
What we did, in those days, is described today as “Sheltering in Place.” It’s the same advice for dealing with several modern threats, especially terrorism of various kinds, whether in schools, malls, churches or theaters. Don’t try to make a run for it; stay together; go into lock-down mode until the threat has passed.
Recently, regarding issues of concern in the Church today, I suggested we share some thoughts about personally navigating such a difficult period, waiting and hoping for the Lord Himself to intervene. Musing about the history of the people of God, whether they were trying to make bricks without straw, hiding out in catacombs, or being subverted by heresies seemingly held by many who should know better, we can see that persecution is always just around the next corner. Today’s persecution in the U. S. may not be as dramatic as the bloody martyrdom being horrifically suffered elsewhere, especially in Syria, but the stakes are the same. The objective of evil is consistent; what is being stalked is the soul. Knowing that, many other decisions are somewhat easier to make, and of paramount importance.
Where would we go?
In the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, dozens of disciples are scandalized about Christ’s words, repeated several times, in essence: “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:55-56). Christ did not back off His Teaching; rather, He made it even more emphatic. In Chapter 6, verse 66 (note the 666 combination), are the heartbreaking, life-destroying words: “After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him.” Jesus does not try to stop them; He did not soften His words then, and He does not soften His Teaching now. Instead, He honors man’s free-will and asks the Apostles: “Do you also wish to go away?” Then we read: “Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6: 67-69).
About the current situation in the Catholic Church, we ask what Peter asked: “To whom shall we go?” For we realize, with crystal clarity, there is NO ONE else to whom we can go, no other Church or faith group has what Christ gave to His Church; i.e. the words of eternal life. And not just the Words, for He, Himself, is the Word, and nowhere is that Word more fully present than in the Catholic Church. Until we fully realize that Peter’s reality is our reality, anything else we do to “Shelter in Place” will be built on sandy soil, eventually reaching a point of erosion. Without the Sacrament of Reconciliation, without the Holy Eucharist, there is no foundation of support (whatever else may lurk under the shade of “ecumenism.”)
How do we prepare to “Shelter in Place?”
Before identifying in subsequent posts in this series such practical steps as stockpiling a few Catechisms and Bibles before they get revised, or protecting against “fake ‘church’ news” from suspect media, the most important thing we can do is to discern prayerfully where we are personally in our individual commitment to what Christ taught. To do that effectively, the first step is realizing that there really is nowhere else to go. It is an essential realization, to deepen our resolve.
Having ‘nowhere else to go’ is a strategic resolve; it is the reason some fighting forces through history have burned bridges behind themselves, making escape or running away impossible. God brings us to a Red Sea that we can’t cross, so that we know when we do cross it, the help came from Him and not from our own strength. That same resolve also echoed in Churchill’s words to his countrymen, mobilizing the commitment of the English people: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never …. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Even more to the point, we can remember Christ’s setting His Face to go to Jerusalem, and how, therefore, the Samaritans would not receive Him: Luke 9:51-53. Without such commitment, it is tempting to reject the fabric of belief, a piece at a time. But “setting our face” to faithfulness to the Lord is almost guaranteed to be met with hostility from others. Such hostility can even be a sign of opposition to righteousness. But faithfulness requires that we set hand to the plow and not turn back. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62.)
For a final inspiration regarding commitment we have the words of the second successor of St. Peter in Antioch, St. Ignatius, in his writings when he was on his way, in chains, via ship to Rome, to be thrown to the lions http://www.passionistnuns.org/Saints/StIgnatiusAntioch/index.htm. The Office of Readings for Oct. 17th, the Memoria of the Bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch, contains the following resolve from his writings:
“… I am writing to all the churches and assuring them that I am truly in earnest about dying for God – if only you yourselves put no obstacles in the way. I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am His wheat, ground fine by the lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ. So intercede with Him for me, that by their instrumentality I may be made sacrifice to God.”
Most of us don’t have the strength to echo St. Ignatius’ words. That is probably a good thing; reasonable fear keeps us preserving life, and doing the work we’ve been called to do. The resolve of an Ignatius is a gift from God, as is His timing. What we are called to do, especially if it requires the ability to endure and persevere, needs God to open the Way. And, if it is His Will, then He gives the grace when needed. Our role is prayerful discernment and commitment. For us, we must be “all in” or we are not “in at all.” This is a crucial basis of all that comes next.
Discernment, Sharing, Wondering
The situation today, and likely what lies ahead, needs deep discernment. I don’t claim to have it, only to need it. Christ’s words are clear that we need to discern and prepare, and to count the cost: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’” Luke 14:28-30. Commitment has a very big cost.
The thrust of the planned posts will be to share how we are preparing ourselves for what already is one of the worst threats to Faith since the Arian Heresy, not to take sides or to teach, but to share possible answers to the question of how we prepare ourselves for what might become even more difficult times, a threat to souls, and how we embrace our own personal responsibility.
We may wonder why this broad weakening in commitment to Church Teaching is happening in our time? On our ‘watch,’ so to speak. “Why” is always a difficult question about the Holy Spirit’s timing, but we might consider two possibilities. The first is a gift – the opportunity to pick up our crosses and follow Christ as He commanded, and with all that entails. The second is Uncle Mordecai’s explanation to Esther: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 14c). And perhaps those two possibilities are actually the same one?